Last month, a conscientious Christian name Philip Rowe was motivated to write in to the Alabama Anniston Star
in order to share his opinion of Atheists as angry, embittered, and despairing creatures. He writes:
Outspoken atheists are haters. They try to convince us that there is no God or say that Jesus is a fraud because they despise us. Atheists have the right to believe whatever they want, but when they push those beliefs onto believers, the motivation is hatred. Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters. He says we will love one and hate the other. Whether you believe it or not, the central messages of Christianity are salvation, restoration and, ultimately, unprecedented joy. Christians reach out to people to share this good news. Outspoken atheists seek to rob people of their hope. They offer no alternative, only misery and despair.
Blair Scott, the Alabama State Director for American Atheists, dropped me a line to alert me to this case of misunderstanding, and to point out his response:
A recent letter-writer stated that atheists despise Christians and are haters. The writer’s main point seemed to be that if atheists debate religious issues with believers, then the motivation is hatred. The writer seemed especially fond of the word “pushy.” Does that make pushy Christian proselytizers hateful? Would he apply the same standard to his own faith? I am an atheist and I do not hate the writer or other Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, etc. I love all human beings equally, even if I disagree with their theology. My car has been bashed in with baseball bats. Bibles left on my front porch. A cross planted in my yard. Death threats received via e-mail. Nasty notes left under my windshield wipers. My children harassed and picked on at school, and much more. I know all about religious hatred. Luckily, I do not paint all religionists with the same brush because of the actions of some of their ranks. But I must ask, what is the writer’s motivation to rail against atheists if not hatred? I can assure the writer and Anniston Star readers that such hatred is NOT coming from the atheists.
Unfortunately, the mistaken belief that Atheists seek to replace religion with despair and nihilism, is widespread and deep-rooted. For my part, I think the most effective counter-example to this kind of prejudice is just the public display of godless virtue. It becomes increasingly difficult for such claims to seem credible when we keep on being tax-paying, vote-casting, old-lady-helping, puppy-loving, respectful, considerate, engaged, and upstanding neighbors.
ran another response to Rowe's letter, from citizen Russell Buckalew
, on the same day. One line in particular strikes me as worth consideration: "I believe that our country's future depends upon the frequent and vociferous expression of differing points of view, lest we become a homogeneous society, lacking the diversity that is the source of our national strength."
The journalist Christopher Hitchens has a comparison
between American-style pluralism and theocratic line-toeing: "On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan. ... On the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism."
I cringe when Christians rail about the threat of Atheism, and frame their complaint in terms of Constitutional freedoms. How many of them realize that their demands for preferential deference align them with Islamist tyranny? We must be grateful to Russell Buckalew and Blair Scott for speaking out against local forms of religious totalitarianism. What starts small will quickly, if unchallenged, become large, become a cultural norm, cloak itself in the false legitimacy of tradition, and encroach further and further on Constitutional freedoms intended to protect any dissenting few from an unrighteous many.